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Maria Mitchell: Eclipse Chaser

[ photo: Maria Mitchell ]

Eclipse Chaser

Scientists from all over the country as well as from England went West to observe the Denver eclipse of July 29, 1878, some of them arriving weeks in advance. Princeton sent an expedition to Denver, as did the Chicago Astronomical Society, the Chicago Times, the Royal Astronomical Society, and the University of Woodstock. Congress funded five expeditions from the Naval Observatory, stationed at various locations along the line of totality. There were, in addition, several private expeditions. "Professor Henry Draper of New York will view the eclipse from Rawlings, Wyoming," reported the Daily Globe from Boston. "His party consists of Professor and Mrs. Draper, Professor Barker of the University of Pennsylvania, Professor Morton, President of the Stevens Institute of Technology, and Mr. Edison, the electrician."

And finally, there was the Vassar expedition, "Miss Mitchell's Party." All of the newspapers listed the names of the scientists in these expeditions, and the only women, except for two professors' wives, were the Vassar women. Vassar's first professor, Maria Mitchell, her sister, and four Vassar graduates, journeyed over 2,000 miles by train in the heat of July, wrangled with stationmasters over lost luggage, pitched their tents on a hill outside Denver, and pointed their telescopes to the center of the solar system, acting all the while like it was no big deal.

Read more about Maria Mitchell.

Vassar College Libraries
Photo credit: Archives and Special Collections